Skip to comments.The Real St. Nicholas
Posted on 12/06/2013 7:59:36 PM PST by Salvation
Is there a Santa Claus? — A third-grade student in Arlington
Yes, there is a Santa Claus. However, we know him more as St. Nicholas. Unfortunately, we have little historical evidence about this popular saint. Tradition holds that he was born in Patara in Lycia, a province in Asia Minor. He was born to a rather wealthy Christian family and benefitted from a solid Christian upbringing. Some say that at age five he began to study the teachings of the Church. He practiced virtue and piety.
His parents died when he was young and left him with a substantial inheritance, which he used for many good works. One popular story tells of a widower who had three daughters. He was going to sell them into prostitution since he could not afford to provide the necessary dowries for their marriages. St. Nicholas heard of the plight of the daughters and decided to help. In the dark of the night, he went to their home and tossed a bag of gold through an open window of the man’s house, thereby supplying the money for a proper dowry for the oldest daughter. The next two nights, he did the same. St. Nicholas’ generosity spared the girls from a sad fate.
St. Nicholas’ reputation as a holy man spread. Upon the bishop’s death, St. Nicholas was chosen to succeed him as the Bishop of Myra. Several accounts agree that St. Nicholas suffered imprisonment and torture for the faith during the persecution waged by Emperor Diocletian in the latter part of the 300s. Some sources attest that after the legalization of Christianity, he was present at the Council of Nicea (325) and joined in the condemnation of the heresy of Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. A later story tells of how St. Nicholas intervened to spare three innocent men sentenced to death by a corrupt governor named Eustathius, whom St. Nicholas confronted and moved to do penance. He died in the fourth century between the years 345 and 352 on Dec. 6th, and was buried at his cathedral.
St. Nicholas has been continually venerated as a great saint. In the sixth century, Emperor Justinian I built a church in honor of St. Nicholas at Constantinople, and St. John Chrysostom included his name in the liturgy. In the 10th century, an anonymous Greek author wrote, “The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence the memory and call upon his protection.” After the Moslem invasion and persecution of Christianity, his body was taken by Italian merchants in 1087 and entombed in a new church in Bari, Italy.
The devotion to St. Nicholas was distorted by the Dutch Protestants, who wanted to erase his “Catholic trappings.” For instance, St. Nicholas was rendered Sint Klaes and later Santa Claus. They also stripped him of his bishop’s regalia and made him a more nordic looking Father Christmas with a red suit.
In the 19th century, American authors also helped change the “bishop’s image” of St. Nicholas. In 1820, Washington Irving wrote a story of Santa Claus flying in a wagon to deliver presents to children. Three years later, Clement Moore wrote A Visit from St. Nicholas (known better as The Night Before Christmas, describing Santa Claus as a “jolly old elf” a round belly, cheeks likes roses and a nose like a cherry. In 1882, Thomas Nast drew a picture of Santa Claus based on Moore’s description and even added that the North Pole was his home. Finally, Haddom Sundblom, an advertising artist for Coca-Cola, transformed Santa Claus into the red-suited, bigger-than-life and even Coke-drinking jolly character we easily picture in our minds today.
Nevertheless, is there a Santa Claus? I remember reading once the response of the editor of The New York Sun in 1897 to an 8-year-old girl named Virginia who asked the same question. Part of the answer, which still applies, was this:
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished…. Nobody sees Santa Claus but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see…. Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever.”
For me, this is a pretty good testimonial of St. Nicholas and the joy he brings to our Christmas celebration. May St. Nicholas inspire us with his prayers and example to celebrate a faith-filled Christmas.
Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Potomac Falls and a professor of catechetics and theology at Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria. If you enjoy reading Fr. Saunders's work, his new book entitled Straight Answers (400 pages) is available at the Pauline Book and Media Center of Arlington, Virginia (703/549-3806).
Saint of the Day Ping!
Better than Santa Claus, Meet St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
The Real St. Nicholas – How Did a Cantankerous but Holy Bishop Become Jolly Ole St. Nick?
The "Claus" Clause [in honor of St. Nick's feast day]
The Santa Question
The "Claus" Clause
Celebrating Nikolaus in Germany
Church celebrates feast of St. Nicholas, the 'original' Santa Claus
Who is St. Nicholas?
Finally a mass in the church of Saint Nicholas in Myra (+ life of St. Nicholas)
An "Anglican World" Christmas Special: St. Nicholas, a Saint For Today
Saint Nicholas of Myra, By Ilya Repin
How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus: One Theory
An Orthodox priest at Bari; the story of St. Nicholas' bones
Turkish Town Exchanges St. Nick for Santa (Former Myra, hometown of St. Nicholas)
The Real St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas belongs in any reclamation of Christmas
Don't forget: St. Nicholas' Day is tomorrow [today] (get your shoes out!)
The Russian legend of St. Nicolas and St. Cassian(Soloviev's Application)
Life of Saint Nicholas the Bishop, from The Golden Legend compiled by Jacobus de Voragine
Yes, There Really is a St. Nicholas !
Did you ever think about the costume that clothes Santa Claus? The colors represent the Bishop’s vestments of those days. Red and White.
When he wasn’t handing out gifts to children, St. Nicholas was punching heretics in the face.
Bring it on. Happy feast of St. Nicholas!
This paragraph struck me as particularly amusing. The article started with stating that there was very little historical data about this man. It then goes on to talk about how "tradition" says..., as the "story" goes..., it was said..., and so on - pretty much admitting that much of what anyone knows about the man who came to be known as St. Nicholas was legend and unprovable since he was said to have lived in the fourth century. But to then go on and denigrate "Dutch Protestants" for distorting the story sounds like blatant hypocrisy. "Hey, you guys can't make up stories about someone we already made up stories about!"
Catholicism doesn't own the ancient saints nor retain control over any information about them. Catholicism is rife with legend, myth, stories and mysteries. Even a cursory reading of some of the more "popular" saints and their lives will require a certain level of suspended belief. No, Fr. Saunders, the REAL reason for hope in this world is Jesus Christ and the grace of Almighty God that never runs dry or needs a special season in which to be effective. We don't need to revere pretend saints, because we have the true God to whom belongs ALL glory, honor and praise. JESUS is the reason for the season - ALL seasons!
Another tale has the three bags of gold morphing over time into the three golden globes that signify a pawn broker’s shop. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawn brokers.
There is a book I have, about the “kneeling Santa” and I have the Christmas ormnament as well of the kneeling Santa at the infant Christ’s creache.
And that symbol is with us to this very day!
There isn’t much history about St. Nicholas — the real St. Nicholas.
Is there some reason you do not believe the historical comment about early Americans? They really did not like Catholics at all. There were even some colonies were Catholics were not welcome to live.
People flocked elsewhere. That’s how Maryland became the first Catholic Diocese in the United States.
Thank you for the ping and the article!
You are welcome.
Is there some reason why you missed my point and instead addressed what it was not? Here's what I noted...the American "Dutch Protestants" were accused of distorting the Catholic legends about St. Nicholas. In other words, the author of the article was asserting that somehow the Protestants didn't have a right to "interpret" the legend about a fourth century saint of whom the author acknowledge very little historical data existed. Does that not seem ironical, if not a little hypocritical? It did to me which is why I posted my thoughts.
As to those poor Catholics and the bad, mean colonists who didn't "like" them or welcome them, you would have to go back to their justifications for why - if they really did, that is. I seem to recall a time when all non-Catholics were in the same boat and not only did the Catholics not like them or welcome them, they persecuted, tortured and murdered them. Can you point to a time where American Catholics were treated in this way here in America? Don't make the mistake of presuming that I'm okay with anyone - especially professing Christians - treating those different than them in a harsh or demeaning way, because I'm not. I just think people need to look at the whole picture to understand the whys and wherefores of the actions early Americans took in the process of establishing this new country. The sixteenth century was when the Reformation happened and the aftermath of that influenced the religious ideas that got carried over to America.
A great read, making the season more meaningful.
The reformation also inspired a man named King Henry XVII to demand obedience to Him and His Church.... Much to the chagrin of Puritans and Catholics alike.
There was no King Henry the SEVENTEENTH. I assume you mean King Henry VIII (eighth), right? Henry's issues with the Roman Catholic Church were more about his insistence on getting an annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, widow of his brother Arthur so he could marry Anne Boleyn and get a legitimate male heir to his throne. If you check, you'll see that King Henry VIII ruled England from 1509-1547. He actually defended the Catholic Church from Martin Luther's accusations of heresy in a book he wrote probably with considerable help from Thomas Moreentitled The Defence of the Seven Sacraments, for which he was awarded the title "Defender of the Faith" (Fidei Defensor) by Pope Leo X. The "Protestant Reformation" was NOT Henry's inspiration.
These events were, in part, associated with the wider process of the European Protestant Reformation, a religious and political movement that affected the practice of Christianity across most of Europe during this period. Many factors contributed to the process: the decline of feudalism and the rise of nationalism, the rise of the common law, the invention of the printing press and increased circulation of the Bible, the transmission of new knowledge and ideas among scholars and the upper and middle classes. However, the various phases of the English Reformation, which also covered Wales and Ireland, were largely driven by changes in government policy, to which public opinion gradually accommodated itself.
Based on Henry VIII's desire for an annulment of his marriage, the English Reformation was at the outset more of a political affair than a theological dispute. The reality of political differences between Rome and England allowed growing theological disputes to come to the fore. Immediately before the break with Rome, it was the Pope and general councils of the church that decided doctrine. Church law was governed by the code of canon law with final jurisdiction in Rome.
Church taxes were paid straight to Rome, and the Pope had final say over appointment of bishops. The split from Rome made the English monarch the Supreme Governor of the English church by Royal Supremacy, thereby making the Church of England the established church of the nation. Doctrinal and legal disputes now rested with the monarch, and the papacy was deprived of revenue and the final say on the appointment of bishops.
The structure and theology of the church was a matter of fierce dispute for generations. These disputes were finally ended by a coup d'état (the "Glorious Revolution") in 1688, from which emerged a church polity with an established church and a number of non-conformist churches whose members at first suffered various civil disabilities only removed over time, as did the substantial minority who remained Roman Catholic in England, whose church organisation remained illegal until the 19th century. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Reformation)
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